By John Thomas Tuft
He wasn’t supposed to die. As she sat in the car in the parking lot of Grace’s Convenience Store and Grill and Ice Cream Shoppe, that’s the thought that kept running through her mind. Over and over and over. He wasn’t supposed to die. But he did. He died. Far from home, all alone, abandoned and forgotten. And now she would never have the chance to tell him that she was sorry. Now her waiting and denials and fears would never be released, never assuaged, she would never heal. She could never look into his eyes and say the needed words, never hear what she longed so badly to hear. And the pain and sorrow of it all felt like it was crushing her.
Her best friend always told her she had the heart of a child, a little girl’s view of things. She felt the pain of others too keenly, she cried at arguments, got angry at people being mean to others, and trusted beyond reason. All that made her very shy, and all that that combination had gotten her in her school days was that everyone thought she was stupid. “Silly Sarah, silly, stupid Sarah,” was still the singsong taunt in her head whenever she felt someone thought she didn’t understand something. Or when facing something she wasn’t sure about; sure she could handle, sure she would be accepted, sure that her ideas would be good enough, sure that she even looked good enough. Silly stupid Sarah.
Except for him. “Let your imagination get ahead of you, but never let it get away from you.” That was the first thing her literature teacher, Mr. Ichigo Ichthus, had told the class and she knew right then she had found her spot. He let the class call him Mister Eye Eye because Ichigo Ichthus is a mouthful and teenagers want nothing if not shortcuts. “Good writers are soul reapers and soul illuminators,” he always said at the beginning of a new unit of authors. “Some even call them wizards who spin words as magic.” Mr. Eye Eye had paid careful attention to her, encouraging and challenging her at the same time. He set the bar high and expected her to give nothing less than her best effort to try to reach it.
The thought of that time ten years ago brought a bit of light to Sarah’s eyes as she sat now in her car, wounded by the news. She had applied for the school paper, full of hope and eagerness. But Mr. Ichthus had said no, she wasn’t ready. In her head she heard silly stupid Sarah. So she went to the principal and told him that Mr. Eye Eye had been inappropriate with her. Ichigo Ichthus was summarily fired and could not be hired anywhere else. For all these years she kept the truth as her precious secret. The last she heard of Ichigo Ichthus was that he was somewhere out west working in a nursing home as a patient aide, changing diapers and feeding mushed up food to those many considered barely above homeless derelicts.
The knock on her window startled her. A young man peered in at her. Her heart pounded. Could it be? She was certain she had never seen him before but somehow he looked all too familiar. Sarah hesitated. Unsure. Uncertain. He motioned for her to roll down the window. “I have something for you,” he shouted. Sarah rolled the window down. “What? Who are you?” He motioned to her to get out. She drew back, afraid of this stranger who somehow seemed to know her. And she was stunned to the core when he said, “Silly stupid Sarah, come here.”
That did it. Sarah threw open the door and jumped out. “What the…? Who the hell are you to call me that?” To her surprise the man smiled. “Come and see,” he said, and held out a business card. Sarah slowly reached out and accepted the card, her hand shaking with both rage and fear. She held the card under the streetlight. The only thing on it was a simple drawing of an eye and a fish. “Good writers are soul reapers…” the young man’s voice drifted off into the mists. “Who are you?” Sarah whispered.
“I’m Junior,” he said. Sarah fell to her knees, tears streaming down her face. “Mister Eye Eye?” The man took her hand and pulled her back to her feet. “My father sent me. He’s not here any more.” Sarah gasped out her pain. “I never told him… I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry.” Junior wiped the tears first from his own face and then hers. “He knows, Sarah. He knows.” Sarah pulled her hand away. “I was horrible to him. I can’t forgive myself.” Junior said, “Look at me.” Sarah looked. “My father wanted you to know that he’s sorry.” Sarah buried her face in her hands. “He’s sorry? No, no, he did nothing wrong. No,no, no.”
Junior took her hand again. “He just wanted you to know, Sarah. He’s sorry for all the pain you’ve been in. He never regretted being your teacher.” He took a step back and turned to leave. “It is done with, Sarah. It is finished. Live like that.”
Words are magic, and writers are wizards.